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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Production Management Research For Horticultural Crops in the Gulf South

Location: Southern Horticultural Research

Title: Wood degradation in the digestive tract of the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae)

item Arquette, Tim
item Lawrence, Amanda
item Sampson, Blair
item Rodriguez, Jose

Submitted to: Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/1/2013
Publication Date: 7/1/2013
Citation: Arquette, T., Lawrence, A., Sampson, B.J., Rodriguez, J. 2013. Wood degradation in the digestive tract of the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences. 58:178-182.

Interpretive Summary: Termites rely on small microscopic animals in their gut to digest wood as food. Pictures using a scanning electron microscope show most of this digestion occurs at the posterior region of the termite’s digestive tract. Although termites can pre-digest wood particles with their own salivary enzymes, much of the food that termites consume is gleaned from the metabolic by-products of three species of gut microorganisms.

Technical Abstract: Most wood decomposition in the digestive tract of subterranean termite workers occurs in food vacuoles of flagellate protozoan symbionts in the hindgut. This study uses scanning electron microscopy to analyze the degree of degradation of wood particles in different regions of the termite gut. Gut contents were analyzed for the degree of wood degradation by comparing the number of holes in wood particles that were photographed with a scanning electron microscope. Electron micrographs showed a variety of shapes and sizes of wood particles recovered from all gut sections. Numbers of holes were significantly higher for wood recovered from the middle and rear hindgut sections compared to particles recovered from front hindgut, midgut, and foregut. Wood degradation at the front hindgut from its digestion by these symbionts could explain the significantly higher numbers of holes in particles from middle and rear hindgut sections. Although some wood is theoretically digested from the action of endocellulase and beta glucosidase released from termite salivary glands and midgut epithelial cells, numbers of holes were not significantly different except in the hindgut, indicating little pre-digestion had occurred in foregut or midgut.

Last Modified: 06/22/2017
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